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Alluvial Fans and Deltas.

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Streams flowing into standing water normally create a delta. A delta is body of sediment that contains numerous horizontal and vertical layers. Deltas are created when the sediment load carried by a stream is deposited because of a sudden reduction in stream velocity. The surface of most deltas is marked by small shifting channels that carry water and sediments away from the main river channel. These small channels also act to distribute the stream's sediment load over the surface of the delta. Some deltas, like the Nile , have a triangular shape. Streams, like the Mississippi , that have a high sediment content and empty into relatively calm waters cause the formation of a birdfoot shaped delta.

Most deltas contain three different types of deposits: foreset , topset and bottomset beds. Foreset beds make up the main body of deltas. They are deposited at the outer edge of the delta. Steeper angles develop in finer sediments. On top of the foreset beds are the nearly horizontal topset beds. These beds are of varying grain sizes and are formed from deposits of the small shifting channels found on the delta surface. In front and beneath the foreset beds are the bottomset beds. These beds are composed of fine silt and clay.

Bottom set beds are formed when the finest material is carried out to sea by stream flow. An alluvial fan is a large fan-shaped deposit of sediment on which a braided stream flows over.

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Alluvial fans develop when streams carrying a heavy load reduce their velocity as they emerge from mountainous terrain to a nearly horizontal plain. The fan is created as braided streams shift across the surface of this feature depositing sediment and adjusting their course. The image below shows several alluvial fans that formed because of a sudden change in elevation.

The various landforms of coastal areas are almost exclusively the result of the action of ocean waves. Wave action creates some of the world's most spectacular erosional landforms. Where wave energy is reduced depositional landforms , like beaches , are created. Properties of Waves.


The source of energy for coastal erosion and sediment transport is wave action. A wave possesses potential energy as a result of its position above the wave trough , and kinetic energy caused by the motion of the water within the wave. This wave energy is generated by the frictional effect of winds moving over the ocean surface. The higher the wind speed and the longer the fetch , or distance of open water across which the wind blows and waves travel, the larger the waves and the more energy they therefore possess. It is important to realize that moving waves do not move the water itself forward, but rather the waves impart a circular motion to the individual molecules of water.

If you have ever gone fishing in a boat on the ocean or a large lake you will have experienced this phenomenon. As a moving wave passes beneath you, the boat rises and falls but does not move any distance across the water body.

Waves posses several measurable characteristics including length and height. Wavelength is defined as the horizontal distance from wave crest to wave crest, while wave height is the vertical difference between the wave's trough and crest. The time taken for successive crests to pass a point is called the wave period and remains almost constant despite other changes in the wave.

Long open-ocean waves or swells travel faster than short, locally generated sea waves.

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  5. They also have longer wave periods and this is how they are distinguished from the short sea waves on reaching the coast. Long swells which have traveled hundreds of kilometres may have wave periods of up to 20 seconds. Smaller sea waves have wave periods of 5 to 8 seconds.


    Where ocean depths are greater than the length of the waves, the wave motion does not extend to the ocean floor and therefore remains unaffected by the floor. As the ocean depth falls below half the wavelength, the wave motion becomes increasingly affected by the bottom. As the depth of water decreases the wave height increases rapidly and the wavelength decreases rapidly.

    Thus, the wave becomes more and more peaked as it approaches the shore, finally curling over as a breaker and breaking on the shore. As the wave breaks, its potential energy is converted into kinetic energy, providing a large amount of energy for the wave to do work along the shoreline. If you have ever watched waves breaking on a shore you may have observed that the waves appear to climb out of the water and also catch up to one another segment off the headland. As a result of this process, headlands are usually sites of intense erosion while embayments are usually sites of sediment deposition.

    Given enough time wave erosion will tend to create a smooth coastline. Wave Refraction. Waves are subject to a reorientation, or wave refraction of their direction of travel as they approach the coast. Where oblique waves approach a straight shore, the frictional drag exerted by the sea floor turns the waves to break nearly parallel to the shore. On an indented coast the situation is more complex.

    Erosion, Transportation, and Deposition Along Coasts. A number of mechanical and chemical effects produce erosion of rocky shorelines by waves. Depending on the geology of the coastline, nature of wave attack, and long-term changes in sea-level as well as tidal ranges, erosional landforms such as wave-cut notches , sea cliffs and even unusual landforms such as caves , sea arches , and sea stacks can form.

    Transportation by waves and currents is necessary in order to move rock particles eroded from one part of a coastline to a place of deposition elsewhere. One of the most important transport mechanisms results from wave refraction. Since waves rarely break onto a shore at right angles, the upward movement of water onto the beach swash occurs at an oblique angle.

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    However, the return of water backwash is at right angles to the beach, resulting in the net movement of beach material laterally. This movement is known as beach drift. The endless cycle of swash and backwash and resulting beach drift can be observed on all beaches. Frequently, backwash and rip currents cannot remove water from the shore zone as fast as it is piled up there by waves.

    As a result, there is a buildup of water that results in the lateral movement of water and sediment just offshore in a direction with the waves. The currents produced by the laterial movement of water are known as longshore currents.

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    The movement of sediment is known as longshore drift , which is distinct from the beach drift described earlier which operates on land at the beach. The combined movement of sediment via longshore drift and beach drift is known as littoral drift. Tidal currents along coasts can also be effective in moving eroded material. While incoming and outgoing tides produce currents in opposite directions on a daily basis, the current in one direction is usually stronger than in the other resulting in a net one-way transport of sediment.

    Longshore drift, longshore currents, and tidal currents in combination determine the net direction of sediment transport and areas of deposition. Many kinds of depositional landforms are possible along coasts depending on the configuration of the original coastline, direction of sediment transport, nature of the waves, and shape and steepness of the offshore underwater slope. Some common depositional forms are spits , bayhead beaches , barrier beaches or bay-mouth bars , tombolos , and cuspate forelands.

    Glaciers have played an important role in the shaping of landscapes in the middle and high latitudes and in alpine environments. Their ability to erode soil and rock , transport sediment , and deposit sediment is extraordinary.

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    During the last glacial period more than 50 million square kilometers of land surface were geomorphically influenced by the presence of glaciers. Occurrence and Types of Glaciers. Currently, the most extensive continental glaciers are found in Antarctica and Greenland. We can also find smaller glaciers at higher elevations in various mountain ranges in the lower, middle, and higher latitudes. Glaciers can be classified according to size. Continental glaciers are the largest, with surface coverage in the order of 5 million square kilometers.

    Antarctica is a good example of a continental glacier.

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    Mountain or alpine glaciers are the smallest type of glacier. These glaciers can range in size from a small mass of ice occupying a cirque to a much larger system filling a mountain valley.

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    Some mountain glaciers are even found in the tropics. The merger of many alpine glaciers creates the third type of glacier, piedmont glaciers. Piedmont glaciers are between several thousand to several tens of thousands of square kilometers in size. Growth of Glaciers. Ice that makes up glaciers originally fell on its surface as snow. To become ice, this snow underwent modifications that caused it to become more compact and dense.

    Glacial ice has a density of about kilograms per cubic meter. The density of snow ranges from about 50 to kilograms per cubic meter the density of fresh water is approximately kilograms per cubic meter. After the snow falls, the crystals can be reduced by the effects of melting and sublimation. Scientists call this process ablation.

    For most glaciers, ablation is a phenomena dominant in the summer months.